“All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses”, so says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and this is Hower House, a Victorian Mansion built in 1871. It was the home of John Henry Hower and Susan, his wife. I dropped over to sing John “Happy Birthday” along with a number of his other friends – The Friends of Hower House and a group called, The Victorians. When you’re turning 191 years old it’s only right that people fuss a little, pop over to your house with a cake, and sing a chorus or two in your honor.
Here I am with John’s cake and the lady who created it, my friend, Evelyna. Not only is Evelyna a master baker and my friend, but she’s also my pen friend. We send letters back and forth to each other in between our visits. Everyone should have talented friends like Evelyna, plus a handful of pen friends, and of course, a few dozen “dead friends” too.
But let’s get back to John and Evelyna’s cake. Here it is in its full delicious glory.
Evelyna calls this cake her Half and Half. You’ll want to remember that name in case you order one for your next party. Trust me. It is DELICIOUS! In between the white and chocolate cake is a European butter creme filling. Yum! The frosting is Italian Satin, based on a meringue style frosting recipe. A shame John couldn’t have a piece of his own birthday cake, but hopefully he has pleasures of equal or greater value where he is now.
Here’s an old picture of John (on the far left) with his son and grandson. Because I’ve been to their house a number of times I’ve learned a lot about John and his family. I’ve learned John was born February 22, 1822 in Stark County, Ohio and I learned we have a few things in common. We’ve both been teachers. John taught school for a while and I taught music in schools. Both John and I value creativity. I create posts for my blog, write books, give talks on the art of letter writing, host teas and dinner parties, and John created a successful business that made him a fortune.
John was in the right place at the right time. He met the inventor, John F. Seiberling, who patented the Excelsior Mower and Reaper, a machine that dramatically influenced the mechanization of agriculture, and they formed a business partnership that thrived because of the Civil War. The Union army required food and supplies and the agricultural machinery industry was there to provide what was needed.
Yes, John is one of my many “dead friends”. What are “dead friends”? They’re people of the past who we meet and get to know by discovering their work, reading their biographies and letters and visiting their houses.
John was truly one of Akron, Ohio’s leading industrialists, a great man, but he’s moved on now to a new address. I’m not exactly sure what that address is, but whatever it is, I bet he’s happy there, pleased that his Second Empire Italianate house is still being carefully maintained. I’m pleased too, because historic preservation is important to me.
John’s house has been called one of the finest examples of Second Empire style in Ohio. Historically, the House is the last remaining mansion from Akron’s first “Gold Coast,” and was the home of three generations of a family that shaped history. The Howers and their descendants occupied the home continually from 1871 until 1973.
Now Hower House is owned by Akron University and is opened to the public for guided tours. It may also be rented for receptions and private parties..
I love visiting most old houses, but I especially love visiting the old houses of my “dead friends”. To see the very things these people lived with, the simple things, their antiques, the treasures they collected from far off places — it’s fascinating! But it’s not just the material goods that make a big impression on me. It’s the very spirit of the people who lived in those places, spirit that may not be obvious to everyone, but is usually quite visible and clear to me.
I first experienced the spirit of a ‘dead friend’ when I popped in at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s House in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Henry’s spirit was all around that house. I felt he’d be walking through the door at any moment. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, I discovered his very own words on the subject. His thoughts about spirits and houses were captured in his poem, Haunted Houses. Henry was my very first “dead friend”. Many more followed, and now John Henry Hower is one of them too. You can never have too many friends you know — be they old, new, living, or “dead”. As friends share their stories inspiration flows.
Drop in at Hower House when you’re in Akron, Ohio and get to know John Henry, his family and his house. If you’re in Boston, pop on over to Henry Longfellow’s house. Tell them both I sent you. But now, before you go, Henry wants to share his poem with you. I hope you like it as much as I do.
All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses.
Through the open doors the harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.
We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air, A sense of something moving to and fro.
There are more guests at table than the host invited;
the illuminated hall is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.
The stranger at my fireside cannot see the forms I see,
nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is;
while unto me all that has been is visible and clear.
We have no title deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants from earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold to mortmain still their old estates.
The spirit world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere,
And everywhere wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air,
Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attraction and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.
These perterbations, this perpetual jar of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from an influence of an unseen star,
An undiscovered planet in our sky.
And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and light, —
So from the world of spirits there descends,
A bridge of light connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.